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Curr Opin Chem Biol. 2011 Apr;15(2):304-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2011.01.004. Epub 2011 Feb 4.

Ferritin protein nanocages use ion channels, catalytic sites, and nucleation channels to manage iron/oxygen chemistry.

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  • 1CHORI Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, 5700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. etheil@chori.org


The ferritin superfamily is composed of ancient, nanocage proteins with an internal cavity, 60% of total volume, that reversibly synthesize solid minerals of hydrated ferric oxide; the minerals are iron concentrates for cell nutrition as well as antioxidants due to ferrous and oxygen consumption during mineralization. The cages have multiple iron entry/exit channels, oxidoreductase enzyme sites, and, in eukaryotes, Fe(III)O nucleation channels with clustered exits that extend protein activity to include facilitated mineral growth. Ferritin protein cage differences include size, amino acid sequence, and location of the active sites, oxidant substrate and crystallinity of the iron mineral. Genetic regulation depends on iron and oxygen signals, which in animals includes direct ferrous signaling to RNA to release and to ubiquitin-ligases to degrade the protein repressors. Ferritin biosynthesis forms, with DNA, mRNA and the protein product, a feedback loop where the genetic signals are also protein substrates. The ferritin protein nanocages, which are required for normal iron homeostasis and are finding current use in the delivery of nanodrugs, novel nanomaterials, and nanocatalysts, are likely contributors to survival and success during the transition from anaerobic to aerobic life.

Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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